The World Without You: death fractures a family

The Frankel family has gathered on the fourth of July at their summer home in the Berkshires. They are there not to celebrate the holiday but to memorialize their kin, Leo Frankel – a reporter who was kidnapped and murdered while on assignment in Iraq.

The World Without You, by Joshua Henkin, focuses on “the ripple effects of the aftermath of Leo’s death on his intimate family circle — his grandmother, parents, three sisters and in-laws, his widow and 3-year-old son,” writes Jane Ciabattari in her review for NPR Books.

“Henkin creates a powerful sense of each individual’s hopes, fears and simmering aggravations, set against the evocative landscape of childhood summers. Even his younger characters (five boys ages 3 to 8) have distinct personalities,” writes Ciabattari.

Henkin draws readers into the complicated nuances of and intricate balances of the Frankel family. “Clarissa, the eldest sister at 39, and her husband, Nathaniel, arrive late, having stopped at a Hampton Inn because she discovered she was ovulating. Since Leo’s death she has been trying to get pregnant. Lily, 38, has left her boyfriend, a Washington, D.C., chef, behind. Noelle, known as a ‘nympho’ in high school and now an Orthodox wife and mother of four sons living in Jerusalem, is disoriented by her homecoming and beset with worries. Thisbe, Leo’s widow, a Berkeley graduate student, is teetering on the verge of a new commitment.”

But the most surprising announcement comes from Leo’s parents. “Marilyn and David Frankel, now known as the parents of the dead journalist, are on the verge of separating after 42 years of marriage, torn apart by their differing reactions to his death,” writes Ciabattari.

“Leo’s death has, it seems, forced everyone close to him to re-examine life.

Henkin canvasses a timely topic in The World Without You, given the number of reporters killed in war zones in recent years. But the “most powerful and unexpected effect in this compassionate and beguiling novel is not what it tells us about Leo and his final days, but how much Henkin makes us care about those he has left behind,” writes Ciabattari.

For Ciabattari’s full review, click here.

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